Scandinavia (// SKAN-dih-NAY-vee-ə) is a region in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. The term Scandinavia in local usage covers the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The majority national languages of these three belong to the Scandinavian dialect continuum, and are mutually intelligible North Germanic languages. In English usage, Scandinavia also sometimes refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula, or to the broader region including Finland and Iceland, which is always known locally as the Nordic countries.
Photo of the Fennoscandian Peninsula and Denmark, as well as other areas surrounding the Baltic Sea, in March 2002.
Nordic territories that are not part of Scandinavia:
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While part of the Nordic countries, the remote Norwegian islands of Svalbard and Jan Mayen are not in Scandinavia, nor is Greenland, a constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark. The Faroe Islands are sometimes included.
The name Scandinavia originally referred to the former Danish, now Swedish, region of Scania. Scandinavia and Scandinavian entered usage in the late 18th century, being introduced by the early linguistic and cultural Scandinavist movement. The majority of the population of Scandinavia are descended from several North Germanic tribes who originally inhabited the southern part of Scandinavia and spoke a Germanic language that evolved into Old Norse. Icelanders and the Faroese are to a significant extent descended from the Norse and are therefore often seen as Scandinavian. Finland is mainly populated by Finns, with a minority of approximately 5% of Swedish speakers. A small minority of Sami people live in the extreme north of Scandinavia. The Danish, Norwegian and Swedish languages form a dialect continuum and are known as the Scandinavian languages—all of which are considered mutually intelligible with one another. Faroese and Icelandic, sometimes referred to as insular Scandinavian languages, are intelligible in continental Scandinavian languages only to a limited extent. Finnish and Meänkieli are closely related to each other and more distantly to the Sami languages, but are entirely unrelated to the Scandinavian languages. Apart from these, German, Yiddish and Romani are recognized minority languages in parts of Scandinavia.
Terminology and use
"Scandinavia" refers to Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Some sources argue for the inclusion of the Faroe Islands, Finland and Iceland, though that broader region is usually known in the countries concerned as Norden, or the Nordic countries.
The use of "Scandinavia" as a convenient general term for Denmark, Norway and Sweden is fairly recent. According to some historians, it was adopted and introduced in the eighteenth century, at a time when the ideas about a common heritage started to appear and develop into early literary and linguistic Scandinavism. Before this time, the term "Scandinavia" was familiar mainly to classical scholars through Pliny the Elder's writings and was used vaguely for Scania and the southern region of the peninsula.
As a political term, Scandinavia was first used by students agitating for pan-Scandinavianism in the 1830s. The popular usage of the term in Sweden, Denmark and Norway as a unifying concept became established in the nineteenth century through poems such as Hans Christian Andersen's "I am a Scandinavian" of 1839. After a visit to Sweden, Andersen became a supporter of early political Scandinavism. In a letter describing the poem to a friend, he wrote: "All at once I understood how related the Swedes, the Danes and the Norwegians are, and with this feeling I wrote the poem immediately after my return: 'We are one people, we are called Scandinavians!'".
The clearest example of the use of the term "Scandinavia" as a political and societal construct is the unique position of Finland, based largely on the fact that most of modern-day Finland was part of Sweden for more than six centuries (see: Finland under Swedish rule), thus to much of the world associating Finland with all of Scandinavia. But the creation of a Finnish identity is unique in the region in that it was formed in relation to two different imperial models, the Swedish and the Russian.
The term is often defined according to the conventions of the cultures that lay claim to the term in their own use. When a speaker wants to explicitly include Finland alongside Scandinavia-proper, the geographic terms Fenno-Scandinavia or Fennoscandia are sometimes used in English, although these terms are hardly if at all used within Scandinavia.
Societal and tourism promotional organizations
Various promotional agencies of the Nordic countries in the United States (such as The American-Scandinavian Foundation, established in 1910 by the Danish American industrialist Niels Poulsen) serve to promote market and tourism interests in the region. Today, the five Nordic heads of state act as the organization's patrons and according to the official statement by the organization its mission is "to promote the Nordic region as a whole while increasing the visibility of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in New York City and the United States". The official tourist boards of Scandinavia sometimes cooperate under one umbrella, such as the Scandinavian Tourist Board. The cooperation was introduced for the Asian market in 1986, when the Swedish national tourist board joined the Danish national tourist board to coordinate intergovernmental promotion of the two countries. Norway's government entered one year later. All five Nordic governments participate in the joint promotional efforts in the United States through the Scandinavian Tourist Board of North America.
Use of "Nordic countries" vs. "Scandinavia"
While the term "Scandinavia" is commonly used for Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the term "Nordic countries" is used unambiguously for Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, including their associated territories (Svalbard, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands). Scandinavia can thus be considered a subset of the Nordic countries. Furthermore, the term Fennoscandia refers to Scandinavia, Finland and Karelia, excluding Denmark and overseas territories, but the usage of this term is restricted to geology when speaking of the Fennoscandian Shield (Baltic Shield).
In addition to the mainland Scandinavian countries of:
Denmark (constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system) Norway (constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system) Sweden (constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system)
The Nordic countries also consist of:
Finland (parliamentary republic) Iceland (parliamentary republic) Åland Islands (an autonomous province of Finland since 1920) Faroe Islands (an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark (The unity of the Realm), self-governed since 1948) Greenland (an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark (The unity of the Realm), self-governed since 1979) Svalbard, which is under Norwegian sovereignty, is not considered part of Scandinavia as a cultural-historical region, but as a part of the Kingdom of Norway (since 1925) it is part of the Nordic countries (Norden).
Whereas the term "Scandinavia" is relatively straightforward as traditionally relating to the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden there exists some ambiguity as regards the ethnic aspect of the concept in the modern era. Traditionally, the term refers specifically to the majority peoples of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, their states, their Germanic languages and their culture. In the modern era, the term will often include minority peoples such as the Sami and Meänkieli speakers in a political and to some extent cultural sense as they are citizens of Scandinavian countries and speak Scandinavian languages either as their first or second language. However, Scandinavian is still also seen as an ethnic term for the Germanic majority peoples of Scandinavia and as such the inclusion of Sami and Finnish speakers can be seen as controversial within these groups.
Scandinavia and Scania (Skåne, the southernmost province of Sweden) are thought to go back to the Proto-Germanic compound *Skaðin-awjō (the edh represented in Latin by t or d), which appears later in Old English as Scedenig and in Old Norse as Skáney. The earliest identified source for the name Scandinavia is Pliny the Elder's Natural History, dated to the first century AD.
Various references to the region can also be found in Pytheas, Pomponius Mela, Tacitus, Ptolemy, Procopius and Jordanes, usually in the form of Scandza. It is believed that the name used by Pliny may be of West Germanic origin, originally denoting Scania. According to some scholars, the Germanic stem can be reconstructed as *skaðan- and meaning "danger" or "damage". The second segment of the name has been reconstructed as *awjō, meaning "land on the water" or "island". The name Scandinavia would then mean "dangerous island", which is considered to refer to the treacherous sandbanks surrounding Scania. Skanör in Scania, with its long Falsterbo reef, has the same stem (skan) combined with -ör, which means "sandbanks".
The Old Norse goddess name Skaði, along with Sca(n)dinavia and Skáney, may be related to Proto-Germanic *skaðwa- (meaning "shadow"). Scholar John McKinnell comments that this etymology suggests that the goddess Skaði may have once been a personification of the geographical region of Scandinavia or associated with the underworld.
Pliny the Elder's descriptions
Pliny's descriptions of Scatinavia and surrounding areas are not always easy to decipher. Writing in the capacity of a Roman admiral, he introduces the northern region by declaring to his Roman readers that there are 23 islands "Romanis armis cognitae" ("known to Roman arms") in this area. According to Pliny, the "clarissima" ("most famous") of the region's islands is Scatinavia, of unknown size. There live the Hilleviones. The belief that Scandinavia was an island became widespread among classical authors during the first century and dominated descriptions of Scandinavia in classical texts during the centuries that followed.
Pliny begins his description of the route to Scatinavia by referring to the mountain of Saevo (mons Saevo ibi), the Codanus Bay (Codanus sinus) and the Cimbrian promontory. The geographical features have been identified in various ways. By some scholars, "Saevo" is thought to be the mountainous Norwegian coast at the entrance to Skagerrak and the Cimbrian peninsula is thought to be Skagen, the north tip of Jutland, Denmark. As described, Saevo and Scatinavia can also be the same place.
Pliny mentions Scandinavia one more time: in Book VIII he says that the animal called achlis (given in the accusative, achlin, which is not Latin) was born on the island of Scandinavia. The animal grazes, has a big upper lip and some mythical attributes.
The name "Scandia", later used as a synonym for Scandinavia, also appears in Pliny's Naturalis Historia (Natural History), but is used for a group of Northern European islands which he locates north of Britannia. "Scandia" thus does not appear to be denoting the island Scadinavia in Pliny's text. The idea that "Scadinavia" may have been one of the "Scandiae" islands was instead introduced by Ptolemy (c. 90 – c. 168 AD), a mathematician, geographer and astrologer of Roman Egypt. He used the name "Skandia" for the biggest, most easterly of the three "Scandiai" islands, which according to him were all located east of Jutland.
Neither Pliny's nor Ptolemy's lists of Scandinavian tribes include the Suiones mentioned by Tacitus. Some early Swedish scholars of the Swedish Hyperborean school and of the 19th-century romantic nationalism period proceeded to synthesize the different versions by inserting references to the Suiones, arguing that they must have been referred to in the original texts and obscured over time by spelling mistakes or various alterations.
The Latin names in Pliny's text gave rise to different forms in medieval Germanic texts. In Jordanes' history of the Goths (AD 551), the form Scandza is the name used for their original home, separated by sea from the land of Europe (chapter 1, 4). Where Jordanes meant to locate this quasi-legendary island is still a hotly debated issue, both in scholarly discussions and in the nationalistic discourse of various European countries. The form Scadinavia as the original home of the Langobards appears in Paulus Diaconus' Historia Langobardorum, but in other versions of Historia Langobardorum appear the forms Scadan, Scandanan, Scadanan and Scatenauge. Frankish sources used Sconaowe and Aethelweard, an Anglo-Saxon historian, used Scani. In Beowulf, the forms Scedenige and Scedeland are used while the Alfredian translation of Orosius and Wulfstan's travel accounts used the Old English Sconeg.
The earliest Sami yoik texts written down refer to the world as Skadesi-suolo (north Sami) and Skađsuâl (east Sami), meaning "Skaði's island". Svennung considers the Sami name to have been introduced as a loan word from the North Germanic languages; "Skaði" is the giant stepmother of Freyr and Freyja in Norse mythology. It has been suggested that Skaði to some extent is modeled on a Sami woman. The name for Skade's father Thjazi is known in Sami as Čáhci, "the waterman"; and her son with Odin, Saeming, can be interpreted as a descendant of Saam the Sami population. Older joik texts give evidence of the old Sami belief about living on an island and state that the wolf is known as suolu gievra, meaning "the strong one on the island". The Sami place name Sulliidčielbma means "the island's threshold" and Suoločielgi means "the island's back".
In recent substrate studies, Sami linguists have examined the initial cluster sk- in words used in Sami and concluded that sk- is a phonotactic structure of alien origin.
Another possibility is that all or part of the segments of the name came from the Mesolithic people inhabiting the region. In modernity, Scandinavia is a peninsula, but between approximately 10,300 and 9,500 years ago the southern part of Scandinavia was an island separated from the northern peninsula, with water exiting the Baltic Sea through the area where Stockholm is now located.
Some Basque scholars have presented the idea that the segment sk that appears in *Skaðinawjō is connected to the name for the Euzko peoples, akin to Basques, that populated Paleolithic Europe. According to some of these intellects, Scandinavian people share particular genetic markers with the Basque people.
The geography of Scandinavia is extremely varied. Notable are the Norwegian fjords, the Scandinavian Mountains, the flat, low areas in Denmark and the archipelagos of Sweden and Norway. Sweden has many lakes and moraines, legacies of the ice age, which ended about ten millennia ago.
The southern and by far most populous regions of Scandinavia have a temperate climate. Scandinavia extends north of the Arctic Circle, but has relatively mild weather for its latitude due to the Gulf Stream. Many of the Scandinavian mountains have an alpine tundra climate.
The climate varies from north to south and from west to east: a marine west coast climate (Cfb) typical of western Europe dominates in Denmark, southernmost part of Sweden and along the west coast of Norway reaching north to 65°N, with orographic lift giving more mm/year precipitation (<5000 mm) in some areas in western Norway. The central part – from Oslo to Stockholm – has a humid continental climate (Dfb), which gradually gives way to subarctic climate (Dfc) further north and cool marine west coast climate (Cfc) along the northwestern coast. A small area along the northern coast east of the North Cape has tundra climate (Et) as a result of a lack of summer warmth. The Scandinavian Mountains block the mild and moist air coming from the southwest, thus northern Sweden and the Finnmarksvidda plateau in Norway receive little precipitation and have cold winters. Large areas in the Scandinavian mountains have alpine tundra climate.
The warmest temperature ever recorded in Scandinavia is 38.0 °C in Målilla (Sweden). The coldest temperature ever recorded is −52.6 °C in Vuoggatjålme (Sweden). The coldest month was February 1985 in Vittangi (Sweden) with a mean of −27.2 °C.
Languages in Scandinavia
Two language groups have coexisted on the Scandinavian peninsula since prehistory—the North Germanic languages (Scandinavian languages) and the Sami languages. Due to later migrations, Finnish and Yiddish have also been spoken for over a hundred years. Denmark also has a minority of German-speakers. More recent migrations has added even more languages. Apart from Sami and the languages of minority groups speaking a variant of the majority language of a neighboring state, the following minority languages in Scandinavia are protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages: Yiddish, Romani Chib, Romanes and Romani.
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages of Scandinavia are traditionally divided into an East Scandinavian branch (Danish and Swedish) and a West Scandinavian branch (Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese), but because of changes appearing in the languages since 1600 the East Scandinavian and West Scandinavian branches are now usually reconfigured into Insular Scandinavian (ö-nordisk/øy-nordisk) featuring Icelandic and Faroese and Continental Scandinavian (Skandinavisk), comprising Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.
The modern division is based on the degree of mutual comprehensibility between the languages in the two branches. The populations of the Scandinavian countries, with common Scandinavian roots in language, can—at least with some training—understand each other's standard languages as they appear in print and are heard on radio and television.
The reason Danish, Swedish and the two official written versions of Norwegian (Nynorsk and Bokmål) are traditionally viewed as different languages, rather than dialects of one common language, is that each is a well-established standard language in its respective country.
Danish, Swedish and Norwegian have since medieval times been influenced to varying degrees by Middle Low German and standard German. That influence came from not just proximity but also that Denmark and later Denmark-Norway ruling over the German speaking region of Holstein, and in Sweden with its close trade with the Hanseatic League.
Norwegians are accustomed to variation and may perceive Danish and Swedish only as slightly more distant dialects. This is because they have two official written standards, in addition to the habit of strongly holding on to local dialects. The people of Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark have the greatest difficulty in understanding other Scandinavian languages. In the Faroe Islands and Iceland, learning Danish is mandatory. This causes Faroese people as well as Icelandic people to become bilingual in two very distinct North Germanic languages, making it relatively easy for them to understand the other two Mainland Scandinavian languages.
Although Iceland was under the political control of Denmark until a much later date (1918), very little influence and borrowing from Danish has occurred in the Icelandic language. Icelandic remained the preferred language among the ruling classes in Iceland. Danish was not used for official communications, most of the royal officials were of Icelandic descent and the language of the church and law courts remained Icelandic.
The Scandinavian languages are (as a language family) unrelated to Finnish, Estonian and Sami languages, which as Uralic languages are distantly related to Hungarian. Owing to the close proximity, there is still a great deal of borrowing from the Swedish and Norwegian languages in the Finnish and Sami languages. The long history of linguistic influence of Swedish on Finnish is also due to the fact that Finnish, the language of the majority in Finland, was treated as a minority language while Finland was part of Sweden. Finnish-speakers had to learn Swedish in order to advance to higher positions. Swedish spoken in today's Finland includes a lot of words that are borrowed from Finnish, whereas the written language remains closer to that of Sweden.
Finland is officially bilingual, with Finnish and Swedish having mostly the same status at national level. Finland's majority population are Finns, whose mother tongue is either Finnish (approximately 95%), Swedish or both. The Swedish-speakers live mainly on the coastline starting from approximately the city of Porvoo (in the Gulf of Finland) up to the city of Kokkola (in the Bay of Bothnia). The Åland Islands, an autonomous province of Finland situated in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden, are entirely Swedish-speaking. Children are taught the other official language at school: for Swedish-speakers this is Finnish (usually from the 3rd grade), while for Finnish-speakers it is Swedish (usually from the 3rd, 5th or 7th grade).
The Sami languages are indigenous minority languages in Scandinavia. They belong to their own branch of the Uralic language family and are unrelated to the North Germanic languages other than by limited grammatical (particularly lexical) characteristics resulting from prolonged contact. Sami is divided into several languages or dialects. Consonant gradation is a feature in both Finnish and northern Sami dialects, but it is not present in south Sami, which is considered to have a different language history. According to the Sami Information Centre of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, southern Sami may have originated in an earlier migration from the south into the Scandinavian peninsula.
The economies of the countries of Scandinavia are amongst the highest in the world. There is a generous welfare system in Sweden, Denmark and Finland (which are EU members ) and in Norway and Iceland (which are outside the EU).
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Extension of Norse language in 900 AD: Western Norse in red and Eastern Norse in orange.
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- Denmark, forged from the Lands of Denmark (including Jutland, Zealand and Scania (Skåneland) on the Scandinavian Peninsula)
- Sweden, forged from the Lands of Sweden on the Scandinavian Peninsula (excluding the provinces Bohuslän, Härjedalen, Jämtland and Idre and Särna, Halland, Blekinge and Scania of modern-day Sweden, but including most of modern Finland)
- Norway (including Bohuslän, Härjedalen, Jämtland and Idre and Särna on the Scandinavian Peninsula and its island colonies Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney, Isle of Man and the Hebrides)
The three Scandinavian kingdoms joined in 1387 in the Kalmar Union under Queen Margaret I of Denmark. Sweden left the union in 1523 under King Gustav Vasa. In the aftermath of Sweden's secession from the Kalmar Union, civil war broke out in Denmark and Norway—the Protestant Reformation followed. When things had settled, the Norwegian Privy Council was abolished—it assembled for the last time in 1537. A personal union, entered into by the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway in 1536, lasted until 1814. Three sovereign successor states have subsequently emerged from this unequal union: Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
The borders between the three countries got the shape they have had since in the middle of the seventeenth century: In the 1645 Treaty of Brömsebro, Denmark–Norway ceded the Norwegian provinces of Jämtland, Härjedalen and Idre and Särna, as well as the Baltic Sea islands of Gotland and Ösel (in Estonia) to Sweden. The Treaty of Roskilde, signed in 1658, forced Denmark–Norway to cede the Danish provinces Scania, Blekinge, Halland, Bornholm and the Norwegian provinces of Båhuslen and Trøndelag to Sweden. The 1660 Treaty of Copenhagen forced Sweden to return Bornholm and Trøndelag to Denmark–Norway, and to give up its recent claims to the island Funen.
In the east, Finland, was a fully incorporated part of Sweden since medieval times until the Napoleonic wars, when it was ceded to Russia. Despite many wars over the years since the formation of the three kingdoms, Scandinavia has been politically and culturally close.
Denmark–Norway as a historiographical name refers to the former political union consisting of the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, including the Norwegian dependencies of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The corresponding adjective and demonym is Dano-Norwegian. During Danish rule, Norway kept its separate laws, coinage and army as well as some institutions such as a royal chancellor. Norway's old royal line had died out with the death of Olav IV in 1387, but Norway's remaining a hereditary kingdom became an important factor for the Oldenburg dynasty of Denmark–Norway in its struggles to win elections as kings of Denmark.
The Treaty of Kiel (14 January 1814) formally dissolved the Dano-Norwegian union and ceded the territory of Norway proper to the King of Sweden, but Denmark retained Norway's overseas possessions. However, widespread Norwegian resistance to the prospect of a union with Sweden induced the governor of Norway, crown prince Christian Frederick (later Christian VIII of Denmark), to call a constituent assembly at Eidsvoll in April 1814. The assembly drew up a liberal constitution and elected Christian Frederick to the throne of Norway. Following a Swedish invasion during the summer, the peace conditions of the Convention of Moss (14 August 1814) specified that king Christian Frederik had to resign, but Norway would keep its independence and its constitution within a personal union with Sweden. Christian Frederik formally abdicated on 10 August 1814 and returned to Denmark. The Norwegian parliament Storting elected king Charles XIII of Sweden as king of Norway on 4 November.
The Swedish king also proposed a unification of Denmark, Norway and Sweden into a single united kingdom. The background for the proposal was the tumultuous events during the Napoleonic Wars in the beginning of the century. This war resulted in Finland (formerly the eastern third of Sweden) becoming the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 and Norway (de jure in union with Denmark since 1387, although de facto treated as a province) becoming independent in 1814, but thereafter swiftly forced to accept a personal union with Sweden. The dependent territories Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, historically part of Norway, remained with Denmark in accordance with the Treaty of Kiel. Sweden and Norway were thus united under the Swedish monarch, but Finland's inclusion in the Russian Empire excluded any possibility for a political union between Finland and any of the other Nordic countries.
The end of the Scandinavian political movement came when Denmark was denied the military support promised from Sweden and Norway to annex the (Danish) Duchy of Schleswig, which together with the (German) Duchy of Holstein had been in personal union with Denmark. The Second war of Schleswig followed in 1864, a brief but disastrous war between Denmark and Prussia (supported by Austria). Schleswig-Holstein was conquered by Prussia and after Prussia's success in the Franco-Prussian War a Prussian-led German Empire was created and a new power-balance of the Baltic sea countries was established. The Scandinavian Monetary Union, established in 1873, lasted until World War I.
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Scandinavia, historically Scandia, part of northern Europe, generally held to consist of the two countries of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway and Sweden, with the addition of Denmark. Some authorities argue for the inclusion of Finland on geologic and economic grounds and of Iceland and the Faroe Islands on the grounds that their inhabitants speak Scandinavian languages related to those of Norway and Sweden and also have similar cultures.
- Danish, Swedish and archaic (Dano-)Norwegian: Skandinavien, Norwegian, Faroese and Finnish: Skandinavia, Icelandic: Skandinavía, Sami: Skadesi-suolu/Skađsuâl
- Finnish: Pohjoismaat, Icelandic: Norðurlöndin, Faroese: Norðurlond
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A large peninsula in north-western Europe, occupied by Norway and Sweden … A cultural region consisting of the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and sometimes also of Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands
- John Harrison, Michael Hoyler, Megaregions: Globalization's New Urban Form? (p. 152), Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015
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Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland work together in the official Nordic co-operation.
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Scandinavia (ancient Scandia), name applied collectively to three countries of northern Europe—Norway, Sweden (which together form the Scandinavian Peninsula) and Denmark.
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Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden—sometimes also considered to include Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, & Finland.
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- "Scandinavia: Official Website of the Scandinavian Tourist Boards in North America". Scandinavian Tourist Boards in North America, Globescope Internet Services, Inc. 2005. Retrieved 5 September 2008.
- Nordic Council – official site for co-operation in the Nordic region
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